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Introduction
Peter Jackson, a man I’ve admired every since I stumbled upon his early horror works Bad Taste and Dead Alive (known internationally as Braindead), has done the unthinkable. He has proven that it is possible to take a relentlessly detailed and rich universe crafted in a sprawling epic novel and create a film experience for the masses. After striking gold with The Fellowship of the Ring, Jackson, one year later, unleashed the second part of the trilogy, The Two Towers, which continued seamlessly with the adventures of the one ring and all those connected to it. Now, finally, only a few short months from what promises to be a monumental conclusion, we can enjoy The Two Towers on DVD for the first time.

Lord of the Rings, The: The Two Towers
Movie
The movie opens with a return to Moria where Gandalf and the Balrog are at a standoff. This familiar scene, however, takes a new twist and instead of following the remainder of the fellowship to their grief, we follow Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellan) into the forgotten chasms below even Moria. Before we can learn his ultimate fate, we are brought back to where we left off in The Fellowship of the Ring.

Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) and Sam Gamgee (Sean Astin) have made little progress on their trek towards Mordor where they must return the one ring to the fiery pits from whence it came. Frodo is falling more and more under the control of the ring and the spirits of both of the hobbits is waning in light of the incredible length of the journey thus far and the unknown distance they must still travel. It is not long, though, before they run into the ring’s owner prior to Bilbo - Gollum.

Gollum is a wonder to behold. Every bit of hype about the complexity, believability and dramatic effect of this digital character is deserved. As in the books, Gollum is an immensely important character to the movies and there was no room for error when presenting him onscreen. As he continues on the journey with Frodo and Sam, Gollum continues to be a dramatic entity like none other and his motives are never entirely clear.

Meanwhile, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) are hot on the trail of Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd). As you may recall, the two hobbits were captured and whisked away by the evil Uruk-Hai. The trail leads the three into the land of Rohan which is in turmoil under the weak leader ship of King Theoden. Theoden is a thin shadow of his previous self, we learn, and we discover this situation is not what it seems. Through the help of the malicious Grima Wormtounge (Brad Dourif), Saruman (Christopher Lee) has gained control of Theoden in order to weaken the kingdom of Rohan to insure its defeat in the war waged by Sauron.

Merry and Pippin, it turns out, have escaped the Uruk-Hai but have come under the control of another, less malicious force- an entity by the name of Treebeard (voiced by John Rhys-Davis). Treebeard is a walking, talking tree that, at first, mistakes the hobbits for orcs. This storyline is the weakest and was the most cut up of the plot lines. It will be restored in the upcoming extended edition however.

This movie is an epic in itself and the plot outlined above all unfolds in the first 45 minutes of the three hour film. Needless to say, you should not, under any circumstances, attempt to watch this film without seeing The Fellowship of the Ring. Peter Jackson made the genius decision to pickup in this film where the first left off and spends absolutely no time recapping the previous adventures of these characters. Instead, he fills the entire three hours with new plot, more character driven story and epic adventure and action. The whole film culminates in the most viscerally engaging and technically detailed on-screen battle ever witness. The battle of Helm’s Deep will most likely leave you breathless.

Jackson and his crew have crafted a living universe here. Every costume, every weapon, every plant and every creature looks as if it belongs. This is Middle-earth. The cinematography is darker in this film (due to the obvious shift in tone) and the direction and camera work is just as gorgeous as in the first film. There are no weak links in the chain of actors that have been asked to bring the characters of Middle-earth alive. Each and everyone lives and breathes their characters.

What The Lord of the Rings series comes down to is a masterfully epic story about a hobbit. While these movies could have been overwhelmed by special effects and CGI, Jackson understands the soul of the books were not in the creatures and the battles, but in the characters that have to do things that go against their very nature in order to bring harmony back into their world. The Two Towers is a perfect middle section to this trilogy and, like The Fellowship of the Ring, leaves us with a cliff-hanger and a good reason to go see the next film. When all is said and done, these three films will forever be discussed as part of film history.

Lord of the Rings, The: The Two Towers
Video
The Two Towers is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture here is commendable and quite good considering the need to cram the three hour film plus soundtrack on a single disc. Like The Fellowship of the Ring 2 disc release, this picture will impress casual fans of the medium but those more discerning will notice a minute number of drawbacks. There is some noticeable edge enhancement in very few spots, though I assure you it is never distracting. There are a few “soft” moments as well. Overall, however, the color is spot on and contrast is handled very well. The picture is not the best to be found in the DVD world, but it comes close.


Audio
Can I just say first off that Howard Shore’s score for this trilogy thus far has been absolutely brilliant? That leads right into my thoughts on the Dolby Digital EX 5.1 surround soundtrack found on this release. It is without a doubt, stunning. Not only is the score all encompassing, but the entire world of Middle-earth finds its way to you from every direction. Dialogue is never once anything but crystal clear despite the constant use of almost every channel. The visually dazzling battle of Helm’s Deep is equally as impressive in the sound department. The bass is constantly in overdrive and every arrow, every shout and every sword making contact is discernable. Where the The Fellowship of the Ring 2 disc release soundtrack left me very satisfied, this experience left me wondering how long it will be before something will top it. The DTS 6.1 ES track coming on the 4 disc set in November will have very little room to improve on this, the best surround experience I’ve had in a while.

Lord of the Rings, The: The Two Towers
Extras
The extras begin with an on set special from the Starz Encore channel. This is a short piece with some interview clips and some stories from the set of The Two Towers. This is more of a promotional video than anything and serves only as a light hearted retrospective on the early marketing for the film. More in depth is another promotional video that showed on the WB channel called Return to Middle-earth. I remember vividly watching this when it first aired. Back then, however, all I was really interested in was the new footage from The Two Towers. Now, I see that this is really more than your usual marketing film and really goes out of its way to get some decent material and interviews that shows the hard work and fun that was involved in making the film.

Next up is a strange pair of supplemental materials. There is a short film, directed by Sean Astin, called The Long and Short of It. Astin introduces the film and explains that he did this during a short break during pick-ups for The Lord of the Rings movies. Filmed in the beautiful town of Wellington, this short film is a good natured, six-minute piece about the good in us all. I really enjoyed it. Watch out for Peter Jackson’s cameo, by the way. Accompanying the short is a making-of featurette that goes a little more in depth on the origins and creation of The Long and Short of It.

Hardcore fans with decent internet connections have already seen each of the titles in the next list of featurettes. These shorts were created for the lordoftherings.net website and slowly, but surely introduced more and more about the film to build hype for The Two Towers. The featurettes are Forces of Darkness, Designing the Sounds of Middle-earth, Edoras: The Rohan Capital, Creatures of Middle-earth, Gandalf the White, Arms and Armor, The Battle of Helm’s Deep and Bringing Gollum to Life. As you can see, these internet shorts cover a huge variety of topics surround the film. Surprisingly, they provide a good bit of detailed information about the movie without ever giving anything away. These are going to be the most interesting bits for the casual fan.

My favorite feature and one that will probably be the most sought after is the 10 minute behind-the-scenes preview of the final chapter in the trilogy, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Peter Jackson has a few things to say about the production and there’s some very tantalizing behind-the-scenes glimpses that will get fan-boy minds churning trying to figure out exactly what they are seeing. To top off this great feature is a minute and thirty second long compilation of scenes from The Return of the King that acts more or less as the first teaser trailer for the movie. This did its job in officially making my mouth water. The countdown has begun!

Also in the very cool teaser department is the look inside the Special Extended DVD Edition of The Two Towers. There’s many short glimpses of scenes that have been added back into the feature. Even as a fan-boy that has done his homework and knows what scenes are being added, this was a treat. There are some interviews with Jackson and cast and crew that explain why it is so important for some of the scenes to be put back in.

The final preview is for the upcoming Return of the King video game. I cannot say that I am a huge video game fan, but I do know that The Fellowship of the Ring game was not very good at all and The Two Towers game was a huge improvement. The final game in the series looks to be as entertaining and the preview has some interesting tidbits on the creation of the game.

Rounding out this great package is a music video for “Gollum’s Song” performed by Emiliana Torrini, theatrical trailers and TV spots.

This is a very good package and will hold anyone over until the massive, extra-filled experience of the 4 disc extended edition.

Lord of the Rings, The: The Two Towers
Overall
For casual fans of the series, this is for you to own as soon as humanly possible. The picture and sound qualities are excellent and the extras are beyond good for a normal release. For other, more obsessive fans (like myself), pick this up to hold you over until the extended edition hits. The awe and joy of seeing this film for the first time holds its own on the small screen and the trilogy is shaping up to be on the best ever. I have nothing but faith in Peter Jackson, his fantastic crew and his stellar cast. Enjoy The Two Towers to its fullest and I will be seeing you at the first showing of Return of the King.


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